Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy went deep on the making of the band’s new album, Ode to Joy, and many other topics in his recent appearance on our podcast, Rolling Stone Music Now. Read some highlights below, and to hear the entire interview, press play or download and subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.
There was some trippy conceptual thinking behind the sound of Ode to Joy.
“The unifying kind of overall blanket concept was, what if we didn’t have record collections? What if we were relying upon an oral history of music and had to kind of recreate rock music from some distant memory or some handed down lore?”
The track “Citizens,” with its reference to “high crimes,” is sort of an accidental protest song.
“Lot of times I write lyrics with the news on and the sound down,” Tweedy says. “So a lot of my early iPhone early recordings of songs, like a sketched idea on my Voice Memo will have working titles like “Collusion,” “Creepy Porn Lawyer,” whatever. So occasionally some lyrics end up being sort of impressionistically kind of left behind. I would go through and clean up some stuff, but then sometimes it sounds good and it’s still accurate to the way the song feels, and it doesn’t distract.
When Tweedy was asked to contribute to the Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes project in 2014, he ended up writing an entire album’s worth of songs with unused Bob Dylan lyrics – but he’s still not sure if anyone will get to hear them.
“I certainly would like to share it; I don’t know who that’s up to,” he says. “I’ve cannibalized a lot of the songs: “Evergreen” on [the recent solo album] Warmer was a song that used to have Dylan lyrics. What was so amazing about looking at unused Dylan lyrics is I could hear a Dylan song, but it wasn’t one on any of the records, just because I spent so much time listening to his music and maybe tried to emulate a lot of it over my lifetime. So it came really, really fast. I wrote and recorded all the songs in like, a weekend, and I thought I was going to get to be a part of the project that became Lost on the River. And then my wife got sick, and I needed to stay home for her treatment. And so I thought, well, I’ll just send them what I did. And they weren’t interested in it.”
Tweedy has been working on an unusual side project for the last 15 years.
“Anybody that can write that’s a friend of mine, like [Lincoln in the Bardo author] George Saunders, I’ll have them write a record review of an imaginary record. And then my goal is to record a song or two off of each of those records and put it out as a compilation. But start with the review or the biography of the band. Itcan be from any part of the world — could be a 10 piece could be one piece — but just give me as much information as you feel like you need to give me. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish it… but I get a lot of satisfaction out of that. I don’t know if everybody needs to hear it, but I find it pretty satisfying.”
For all his songs that reference ghosts, Tweedy isn’t sure if he believes in life after death.
Still, he says, “all of the theories of what could happen like reincarnation or heaven, none of them seem as implausible to me as being here – like, actually being alive is just as weird. Like where were you? Now you’re here. So that’s enough for me to maintain some sort of open mind.”
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